Good News and Better News … March 14th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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St. James Composite 2

Saint James Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Realizing that you may never include this sanctuary as a stop off in your pilgrimage of American churches, I will attempt to relate my experience of enjoying the fine folk I met there.

The pastor is John Locke, who has the noble name of a great English philosopher, the inspiration to such American forefathers as James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. (Thomas, by the way, used much of Locke’s language in penning the Declaration of Independence.)

That said, I will tell you that I enjoyed the present incarnation of John Locke of Fayetteville equally.

The congregation was inspiring, and therefore capable of being inspired. Although there were certainly individuals who were curious about my pedigree and what my theological background was, most of them just relaxed and allowed me the chance to share my talents and my heart.

They arrived having survived a week of bitter political struggles and angry candidates, generating a climate threatening mayhem. Let’s be honest–most of us feel rather insignificant when we are viewing the 24-hour news cycle and realize how meager our simple efforts may seem.

But that’s the purpose of the church. It is supposed to be a safe zone–a place where you come to escape social pressure, politics and even religion, and spend an hour or so finding reasons to still believe.

It is a sanctuary where we can proclaim:

1. We’re human.

And then we can ask God, “Is that what you expected?”

We’re not perfect, because in striving for such a position, we would look both prideful and foolish.

2. We’re more “child” than “angel.”

So heavenly Father, enchant us.

Any God we serve who expects us to become more than we are is a charlatan. We are God’s children, and therefore definitely require a certain amount of entertainment with our enlightenment.

3. We need a safe place to come.

The world is full of tribulation, and even though we understand that Jesus has overcome the world, we require a reason to be of good cheer.

It is up to the good folks at Saint James–from leadership all the way through nursery–to provide such an atmosphere.

If they do, they will become viable and powerful in the community, offering an option to the raging storms of those who follow the present wind-blowing.

If they insist on being religious and trap themselves in the drapings of their faith, they will not only be an anachronism to a former time, but will find themselves gnawing on each other out of frustration.

So there’s the good news.

We’re human, we are more like children and we need a safe zone.

But here is the better news: on top of all that, we have this quality–just a bit of sweet, creative divinity placed within us by the breath of God, hinting that we also can surprise you.

We are capable of being gentle and powerful.

So watch us.

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Overreaction … January 18, 2013

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BushmasterSlight traces of mercury are found in apple juice in containers from Upper State New York. As a precaution, a nationwide recall is made of all apple juice, not only from that particular company, but also from all distributors for a season, to ensure the public safety.

An overreaction.

A report is made that a razor blade is found in apples given out at Halloween to children near Cleveland, Ohio. A warning is broadcast across the nation via the media, informing parents of this danger. So many of these loving individuals take their children’s candy to the local hospital, where free inspections and X-rays of the treats are made available. Other parents (including yours truly) make sure they comb through every piece of sweet so that their children will not be damaged. It ends up being an isolated incident, in one case in one community.

So all the concern was certainly an overreaction.

Arsenic is discovered in several capsules of Tylenol near Chicago, Illinois. Within hours, all Tylenol products are pulled off the shelves, quarantined and put to the test, to make sure the public is protected from this poisonous outbreak. Once again, it was limited to that single store.

One might consider this an overreaction.

In the Pacific Northwest, ecoli turns up in some fresh spinach, making several people ill and causing the death of one. Within twenty-four hours, all fresh spinach is removed from the produce aisles, to shield us all from what turns out to be a very narrow spectrum of danger.

Likewise, toys that came from China had tiny particles of lead in the paint, forcing concerned parties to cease accepting shipments and to physically take all such products off the shelves.

An overreaction?

And now, twelve years later, we are still removing our shoes, having all of our possessions radiated and even being frisked at airports because of what happened on September 11th, 2001. Simultaneously, due to that tragedy, a Patriot Act was quickly voted into place, which limited freedoms and allowed for personal intrusions into our lives when it was deemed necessary to guard the common good.

An overreaction?

The truth of the matter is, if tomorrow’s news cycle generated a story in which a young man in Atlanta, Georgia, threw a coconut cream pie at one of his fellow-students in the cafeteria at Oglethorpe High School, in a matter of just a few hours, coconut cream pies would be removed from all cafeterias in our schools, deemed a recent danger. An investigation would be set into motion to determine when and how the treat could be returned to the menu.

Certainly an overreaction.

Yet when the Newtown Twenty-six were lying in their own blood in an elementary school, the American public, rather than producing a righteous overreaction by ceasing further commerce in the matter of weapons, ammunition and insisting on a full investigation of the kind of mental illness that produces such a macabre fiasco–yes, instead of this NORMAL overreaction that Americans would grant to a bunch of suspected spinach, the public instead went out and bought more guns than they ever have before–especially interested in the assault rifle used by the assailant who murdered our children.

No overreaction. Really no debate.

We are settling for a contentious conversation about how we can continue to be mediocrely prepared for such mayhem, while continuing to put an amendment in first place, which should be secondary to human lives.

Do I have this right? Spinach and Tylenol can be blamed in entirety for delivering ecoli and arsenic, which is not in the original makeup. But guns get a free pass simply because normally they sit on a shelf, waiting to be used. If spinach and Tylenol are blamed for producing a few deaths when they are completely innocent, guns must take their turn.

The only way for us to prove that we are serious about stopping violence in this country is to generate an overreaction, demanding a thirty-day moratorium on the sale of any weapons. It would speed up the process of our debate–because certainly the gun sellers would want to expedite a conclusion–and it would show that we have as much concern for our children’s safety from bullets as we do from ecoli.

The absence of this is the presence of a nationwide insanity, riddled with hypocrisy, which renders us at the mercy of an instrument that has a trigger on it, which can be pulled by anyone at anytime.

I am not against guns. I am against guns until we find out how we can keep them in the possession of the common citizen without putting the general citizenry in jeopardy.

And please do not quote the Second Amendment to me unless you’ve taken a moment to read it. The Second Amendment allows for a militia, which, if you move ahead to current time, would be the police force. I have no problem with policemen having automatic weapons. And by the way, the Second Amendment has already been infringed upon–because it allows citizens to BEAR arms. Most states have laws against walking around toting a pistol. You have to have a carrying permit, which after all, is the government infringing on your rights.

This is not a states’ rights issue. This is not about personal freedom. It is about the necessity we have as intelligent people to overreact when we realize … that a bit of hell is threatening our heaven.

It is time for an overreaction to violence. It is our responsibility to give the Newtown Twenty-six a decent burial and memory by taking more than five minutes to commemorate the loss, but instead, honoring these casualties by making sure that they … are the last ones.

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Never Worship Where You Vote… January 5, 2013

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sock snowmanYes, the snowman always votes for more snow–just as the surfer casts his ballot for bigger waves. Politics is the selfish game of pursuing our own ends while insisting it’s for the good of the country and relegating our dissenters as unpatriotic opponents.

It is not suited for children like you and me.

Now a worse thing has happened: political parties are being worshipped. Indeed, it seems to be a godly mission to advance the platform of your party while invoking the name of the Most High as your major contributor. So we’ve moved from the necessary to the ridiculous to the nasty, ending up in abominable. It is time to hide the children from such mayhem.

Here’s why: children need to learn to tell the truth. We insist on it. There is no greater punishment for a youngster than lying and covering up an iniquity that is usually easily exposed. If the truth “makes us free,” it is simply because we are relieved of the burden of maintaining an ever-expanding, ongoing fable about misdeeds. It is exhausting to be politically correct instead of forthcoming.

Yes, all parents want their children to be considered top-notch, but to achieve that status it is also necessary that each child of the household learn that there are seasons for setbacks and disappointments in order for us to grow more fully into completeness.

Children can’t be involved in politics because they need to tell the truth, and obviously, veracity is optional “amongst them who seek votes.” By the time we get done spinning, expanding, promoting, advertising and sowing disinformation about reality, it is often difficult to attain a clarity of thought.

Children should also stay away from politics because children must hear the truth before they can tell the truth. There you go. Lying parents bring forth lying offspring:

Parents who keep alcohol in their refrigerator should not be surprised when their fifteen-year-old comes home drunk from a party that was supposed to feature pizza and root beer.

Parents who fib on the phone to creditors should not feign shock when their dear little ones lie about their grades.

To tell the truth you have to hear the truth. There is a very intelligent word that says “faith comes by hearing.” We build up the confidence to say our individual situation aloud because we’ve heard other people do it without fear.

What is the worst atrocity about our political system? The lies of the Republicans and the Democrats will come down and crash on us for two or three generations to come. We have made it acceptable to be misleading. It is not suitable for children. It is the R-rated movie of government.

And finally, concerning those who desire a childlike faith, we must comprehend that to hear the truth, one must be willing to be wrong. Politicians are never wrong. If you don’t believe me, just listen to them. They are often misquoted, misunderstood, caught on a bad day, taken out of context, targeted by the other party’s kill committee, or they are just victims of a vicious news cycle.

It is rather doubtful in our present political climate if we will ever hear anything that resembles the truth.

Such a gift demands that someone be wrong. Until you are willing to say you are wrong, you can’t hear the truth. If you can’t hear the truth, you can’t tell the truth. And if you can’t tell the truth, you can’t be made free.

The combination of self-righteousness, combined with an unwillingness to negotiate, culminating in a worship of political ideals, has rendered our society crippled of the change which only occurs by the real truth convincing us of the error of our ways … and making us free.

I will not participate.  I have never participated, but in 2013, with my desire to have a childlike faith, I must avoid the bad boys and girls of the political system, who require that I worship where I vote–but won’t give me the freedom of truth.

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Filmy… April 14, 2012

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I have concluded that naïve is the word we use to describe someone when our more courtly nature  restrains us from referring to them as “stupid.” So let me begin this essay today by being generous to myself and saying that I am often naïve. I make no apologies for it. Those who fear naivety often slide down the slope into the cesspool of “jaded.”

For instance, I was naïve at eighteen years of age when I thought I had the right to compose songs. I was equally as naïve when I moved to Nashville,Tennessee, assuming that the music industry would be enhanced and enriched by my presence. Can I be candid with you and tell you I was naïve to think that a man who wanted to make music could also fund the needs of four sons? I was very naïve when I went on the road with my family in 1984 to tour the country in a beat-up van that was barely suitable for utility trips to the junkyard. In 1996 I was naïve to consider writing symphonic music because I had just partnered with a dear lady who was more better acquainted with the downbeat than I was.

And in 2005, when my oldest son came to me talking about the movie industry and his desire to become more intricately involved in making independent films, I was very naïve to think I could write screenplays. Of course, I had written books; I had written stage plays. I had been involved in many video productions during my stay in Shreveport, Louisiana. I had been on the set of movies in the midst of my experience in Nashville,Tennessee. But there was a certain kind of audacious innocence that prodded me on—to embrace the notion that I was capable of writing a screenplay.

I purchased the Final Draft software, studied the format, read a few examples and then took an idea that I thought was going to become a novel, and instead, approached it as a script for a movie. It was a ferocious story—one that many of my friends of more tender conscience considered to be a bit risqué for a Christian writer.

(Before we go any further, let me make something clear. I am not a Christian writer. I am not even a writer who happens to be a Christian. The two callings are quite separate in my mind and each demands its own level of consecration. To be a Christian is to honor the lifestyle of Jesus of Nazareth, surnamed the Christ, and to hold fast to the principle that “NoOne is better than anyone else.” Being a writer is not merely an ability to put words on paper or even to form amazingly structured sentences. There are copy-editors who can always edit your work if, at the heart of the endeavor lies a great, truthful idea. Writers are not scribblers nor are they adventurers in adjectives and adverbs. They are people with a constant flow of ideas which never turns off, leaving them at the mercy of perpetual inspiration. Forgive my digression.) 

So I decided to take this story, which I entitled Lenders Morgan–named after a small fictional town in Southern Ohio–and transform it into a screen production. It was the fable of a girl corralled in this little burg, named Taylor Feazle. She was plagued by a bit of naivete of her own. When she was lured by an equally inexperienced boy from her town, who had personal demons of his own, into what started out as a playful flirt—the two lost children found themselves entangled in a web of adult mayhem.

It was an agonizing story to write, and there are those who would consider it impossible to receive. But I loved it. It was raw, real and filled with human character “gone awry,” which can potentially drop each and every one of us into the pit of the pathetic.

I finished writing the screenplay and as is often the case, it was much too short. So I jumped back in and wrote a couple more scenes that were delightfully enhancing and ended up with my first screenplay—and my first collaboration with my son and daughter-in-law. It won entrance to many film festivals.

Honestly, many of you reading my jonathots would probably not enjoy this movie. The movie industry that we are familiar with has fallen into two ridiculous syndromes: (a) Let’s write about something so extreme that people will be shocked into purchasing a ticket. Arriving at the theater, we will poach additional money off of them for candy and soft drinks.  (b) Let us write a story and then sterilize it so that it will be suitable for the entire family and won’t offend any group whatsoever. I must tell you that both of those approaches fail to deliver the kind of emotional impact that art is intended to produce.

In sharp contrast, I have four guiding lights I use when I find myself in the blessed position of constructing a story which will end up on the screen:

1. Truth on the inward parts. It’s what the Bible says God demands. It’s also what good writers must produce in order to continue their faithful journey. I can’t write trying to sensationalize my plot, nor can I write with any clarity when I attempt to spic-n-span my characters to please a Mr. Clean community. There’s truth—and truth comes from honoring your characters and letting them tell their own stories, leaving the conclusion to an unfolding provided for the viewer’s discretion.

2. Redeem whoever repents. I think it is  important in a movie to reward human evolution towards intelligence and maturity with the blessedness of redemption. I am sick of calling movies “realistic” because they focus on some obscure occurrence that might happen one time in a million, expanding its importance beyond any reasonableness. If my characters repent, they should be given redemption.

3. For those characters who do not transform, I feel it is my job as a writer to “let it play out” to a natural conclusion instead of involving angels and demons. Often the greatest curse a character can have is being forbidden to enter the “heaven on earth” that he or she desires.

4. And finally, I give all of my characters free will to determine their end and their means—just like real people. I hate it when a movie manipulates the ending to please the numbed senses of the populace. My endings are not a surprise; they’re just not predictable.

So I wish to thank God, my sense of naivety, my son and daughter-in-law, and the hundreds and thousands of people who have viewed my writing and been impacted by the message. It was a season of growth for me, when I allowed the sense of being a writer—and that is possessing an ever-flowing basket of ideas—to spill out on paper through the performances of aspiring actors and onto the silver screen.

I thought you might find it interesting. And if you didn’t, be grateful. It isn’t a continuing series.

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Sitting One

 I died today. 

I didn’t expect it to happen.  Then again, I did—well, not really.

No, I certainly didn’t expect it.

I’ve had moments of clarity in my life.  Amazingly enough, many of them were in the midst of a dream. For a brief second I would know the meaning of life or the missing treatment to cure cancer.  And then as quickly as it popped into my mind it was gone. I really don’t recollect dying.  Just this unbelievable sense of clear headedness—like walking into a room newly painted and knowing by the odor and brightness that the color on the wall is so splattering new that you should be careful not to touch it for fear of smearing the design. The greatest revelation of all? 

Twenty-five miles in the sky time ceases to exist.

The planet Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight years to circle the sun. It doesn’t give a damn. 

The day of my death was the day I became free of the only burden I really ever had.  TIME.

Useless.

Time is fussy.  Time is worry. 

Time is fear.  Time is the culprit causing human-types to recoil from pending generosity. 

There just was never enough time. 

Time would not allow it.  Remember—“if time permits …”

Why if time permits?  Why not if I permit?  Why not if I dream?  Why not if I want?  Why does time get to dictate to me my passage? 

It was time that robbed me of my soulful nature.    It was time that convinced me that my selfishness was needed. 

I didn’t die. The clock in me died, leaving spirit to tick on.  

So why don’t we see the farce of time?  Why do we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the cruel despot?  Yes, time is a relentless master—very little wage for much demand.

I died today. 

Actually … a piece of time named after me was cast away.

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